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Funds crunch forces old fare

This Puja, it may well be back to the past if you are looking for special programmes on the radio and television.

With the Prasar Bharati wings facing an unprecedented funds crunch, officials say they are now looking forward to the “nostalgia-loving” Bengali trait to tide over the festive season.

The message emanating from a workshop, attended by officials from Delhi, was loud and clear — that purse-strings were being tightened drastically — though no one expected the impact so soon. “We have plans to categorise the old Puja chartbusters into separate packages and broadcast them,” said a senior All India Radio (AIR) official. “We have a goldmine of 9,600 tapes and are now finalising archival selections of musical features,” said station director A.K. Rej, insisting that some leading artistes would definitely be heard on the radio during the Pujas. He admitted that “the proper ratio between the golden oldies” and new releases was being worked out according to budgetary allocations.

If AIR is in a spot, Doordarshan is being forced to cancel a special Mahalaya feature and invitations sent to several leading city-based artistes. The original plans revolved around featuring Meenakshi Seshadri, with a budget of Rs 8 lakh, officials said. But, with “strong signals” emanating from Delhi, officials scaled down the budget to around Rs 4 lakh.

Nevertheless, leading Bharatanatyam artistes of the city were contacted and it was decided that the backdrop of the programme would be Shushunia Hills, officials said. “Accordingly, travel plans were arranged and the troupe was supposed to set out in the first week of September,” one of them added.

Exactly 48 hours before the troupe was to set out, Doordarshan backed out, sending letters of cancellation and apology to the artistes, some of whom had already spent thousands on expensive costumes. “To date, we have never been forced to do something as humiliating and embarrassing as this,” a senior Prasar Bharati official said.

Last heard, the ‘special’ Mahalaya programme is being worked out with another producer and another set of artistes, who are “less expensive”.

Doordarshan officials, however, insisted that it was no use blaming the Calcutta station. “This is the state of affairs throughout India and we are just plain unlucky in being victims of a nationwide funds crunch,” a senior official added.

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